Fake flash cards - 'ok' quality cards masquerading as premium performance products

Discussion in 'Storage & Backup' started by SiliconAngel, Sep 27, 2014.

  1. SiliconAngel

    SiliconAngel Member

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    As I'm sure you know, there’s a lot of rebadging and fakery in the CF card market. What I didn’t personally realise was some scammers aren’t using cards with insufficient capacity or just heavily damaged, some of them are using quite good cards that they’re rebadging as premium range ones.

    I discovered this personally yesterday. I just purchased a 64GB SanDisk Extreme Micro-SDHX card for my Galaxy S5 (because, as you probably know, slow SD cards used in smartphones can cause performance issues across the board, with apps and functions that have nothing at all to do with the SD card, as evidenced by the 2012 paper Revisiting Storage for Smartphones by Hyojun Kim et al from NEC Labs). Not happy to pay the Australia Tax when it can be had on Amazon for US$50, I found one on eBay for a not unreasonable amount (it irks me we can’t get stuff at Amazon prices, but I’m realistic enough to accept a reasonable markup for living so far from the Civilised World). After seven days, the card arrived from Taiwan. I uploaded a backup of my 32GB card to the new one so it would be ready to pop in my phone, but instead of five to ten minutes it took nearly two hours. Hmm, not quite right.

    So I tested the card with H2testw, which fills the drive and reads it back to check for errors, check capacity and check performance. It really does have the full 64GB available (well, near enough) and there were zero errors detected, but instead of 45MB/s I was seeing ~21MB/s. Not good.

    [​IMG]

    I contacted the seller, who said the rated 45MB/s was only ‘peak’, but if I wasn’t happy with the performance I could send it back to him and he’d provide a full refund. Now I have his name and address (or at least one he can be found through).

    So then I contacted SanDisk, who confirmed that the 45MB/s rated performance is indicative of the sustained read and write performance I should see from this card (no such thing as 'peak' nonsense). They asked me to run Crystal Disk Mark, which I duly fired up - ~23MB/s reads, ~22MB/s writes; again, less than half. (for the sake of completeness, this is connected to a USB 3.0 card reader connected to USB 3.0 ports that I’ve seen sustained 430MB/s throughput over. I even connected up a 32GB SDHC card which gave me 38MB/s read performance using that card reader. Hell, USB 2.0 gear is capable of higher real-world throughput than this card is putting out! So the equipment isn’t the bottleneck, it is purely the card).

    [​IMG]

    Now physically this Micro-SDHC card looks legit to my untrained eye. And there are no issues with capacity or error rate – the device seems to work fine for a 20MB/s card. But a 20MB/s card is a third to half the price of a high performance part. That’s quite a lot of easy cash for relabelling cheap cards as premium performance ones.

    [​IMG]

    The thing that’s concerning to me is just how many people must be being scammed by this sort of rebadging. This particular seller has nearly 4,600 transactions and a 99.4% positive feedback rating – I can’t be the first person he’s sold a rebadged counterfeit card to. They must all be out there blissfully unaware that the card they have is only giving them ‘ok’ performance, not the high speed performance they actually paid for.

    During the course of this I came across this eBay guide which has some worrying stuff right at the bottom: “We have been informed that eBay will NOT act unless the trademark owner (SanDisk, Sony, Kingston) contacts them. All buyers report to eBay hoping that the sellers receive permanent suspension for supplying counterfeits are in vain. eBay will ONLY act if directed to do so by your local law enforcement agency or the rightful trademark owner under eBay’s VeRO program.” I don’t know how accurate that is, so I reached out to eBay to find out. Here's the response I received:

    So that's a better result than I was expecting, although what I'd like to see is that people found to be committing fraud are, you know, referred to the police and charged with an actual crime.

    As a purchaser, or as someone who helps your less tech-centric friends trawl through eBay to find products at reasonable prices, look out for sellers going out of their way to disclaim certain performance characteristics. For example, the listing of the card I purchased had this text, that sounds pretty innocuous until you realise why they went to the effort to include it:

    Now on its own, that actually seems fair enough - connecting a high performance card into a performance limiting card reader will indeed result in poor performance figures (although bear in mind that USB 2.0 has a theoretical maximum bandwidth of 60MB/s and should pretty easily hit 40MB/s in a real-world scenario - it definitely should not top out at ~22MB/s). However, most flash card sellers don't go to this effort - being pre-emptive suggests that this is a problem and a question that they experience routinely. On its own, such 'advice' or disclaimer doesn't necessarily mean the listing is dodgy, but it should be a flag to make you sceptical.

    Another fairly obvious flag was the claim that the item was not in retail packaging, but instead in 'bulk' packaging, consisting of a 'small plastic case'. It is much harder for counterfeiters to reproduce the retail packaging with holographic stickers, so they will avoid this if possible. Again, not comprehensive proof of fraud in and of itself (I've purchased a lot of stuff off eBay that was legitimately genuine but shipped without the retail packaging), but definitely a flag that should trip your caution-meter.

    [​IMG]

    SanDisk have offered to replace my card, which IMO is pretty exceptionally great of them. Obviously I’m protected by PayPal and eBay’s Buyer Protection program, but having SanDisk willing to replace this fake card with a genuine one is pretty fantastic, so kudos to them. They haven’t seemed particularly keen to explore the possibility that the card might be fake at this stage though - they've been quite reticent to directly answer any such question. But they may not be willing to do so until such time as they have inspected the card themselves - it would be pretty disastrous for them if they accused a legitimate distributor of selling counterfeit products! If the above is correct about only a rights holder (SanDisk) being able to file a complaint with eBay, they may also be trying to collect evidence before taking it further.

    This is the point my story is at - I expect to hear back from SanDisk to confirm shipping arrangements Monday. eBay have been informed of the problem and have promised to investigate. But that's still not going to stop the problem - the only way to do that is to ensure the buying public are far better informed. Or, you know, end geographically disparate regional pricing behaviour - if everyone has access to products at Amazon (and similar) prices, they don't have to go hunting through eBay to feel like they're not being routinely raped by greedy Australian stores.
     
  2. kix

    kix Member

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    FYI, you could have bought this on amazon with free shipping. ;)
     
  3. Mau1wurf1977

    Mau1wurf1977 (Banned or Deleted)

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    Was the amount of time you put into researching all of this worth the money saved? It's well known that flash products from eBay are usually dodgy.
     
  4. Renza

    Renza Member

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    Free shipping? It's not free to Australia... only the lower 48 states IIRC
     
  5. RyoSaeba

    RyoSaeba Member

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    Realistically, this has been happening for the past 10 years. it's really nothing new.
     
  6. OP
    OP
    SiliconAngel

    SiliconAngel Member

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    Are you certain of that? AFAIK you can only order books, music and films to international destinations. Electronic goods can't be exported, unless that policy has changed. Would be great if it has!

    I spent about 30 minutes 'researching' what I needed and what was available before purchasing. Yes, that was absolutely worth my time. Was the time I spent afterwards worth it? Well, yes and no - no, because it would of course be nice to have received the product I thought I was buying and avoid all this rigmarole. Yes, because I had no way of knowing this would happen prior to purchasing - I always buy from established sellers with extremely good feedback histories. This guy was no exception - he's been selling on eBay for three years and has sold nearly 4,600 items. It turns out he has probably done that well because very very few people would know enough and be confident enough in their knowledge to challenge a product that actually works pretty well, but is just not quite up to the quality it should be.

    Was it worth the time I've spent overall? Well no, of course not - not from a $/hr point of view. But then, I've only spent a couple of hours testing and following up with SanDisk and eBay - I've spent longer writing my post on here, actually.

    It is well known that there is a risk that pretty much anything on eBay could be faulty or 'dodgy'. But there are ways to minimise that risk - purchasing from sellers with extensive histories and exemplary records is usually a pretty safe bet. You're protected by both eBay and Paypal guarantees, so I'd suggest the overall risk is fairly low anyway.

    But the risk in this example is one of buyer ignorance - unlike pretty much every example I've ever read about, this wasn't a case of a dodgy, physically obvious counterfeit using a flash card that wasn't as large as advertised or was actually faulty. This was an extremely good counterfeit, demonstrating a level of sophistication and care that I wasn't aware of. I expect that this would fool 99% of buyers - it would take someone with significant technical experience to spot this and diagnose it. Most people would just stick it in their phones and never realise. My hat is off - this is a very clever scam, with a low likelihood of being discovered. That is why I've gone to the effort of writing about it - it is an unusual, sophisticated variation on the theme of fake flash, one that poses a new risk - not of purchasing a dodgy product that wastes everyone's time because you'll soon discover you've bought a worthless piece of plastic, but because it is highly unlikely you will ever discover that you've been scammed.
     
  7. Annihilator69

    Annihilator69 Member

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    What card reader are you using?

    USB2 is around 22 odd MB/s

    I just normally get SD cards from MSY as they're generally the cheapest but still legit store $100 instead of $150 is good enough for me.
     
  8. OP
    OP
    SiliconAngel

    SiliconAngel Member

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    AT-VCR-621, an AstroTek USB 3.0 card reader. As I said above, I connected an SD card to the same reader and got 38MB/s yesterday, so the USB 3.0 card reader connected to the USB 3.0 port is definitely not causing a bottleneck ;-)
     
  9. kix

    kix Member

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    You just click a box on the left hand side "eligible for worldwide shipping"
    or something. They ship computer cards, ssd's nearly everything.
    $5 to ship a ssd last time.
     
  10. 2_stroke

    2_stroke Member

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    lol what did you expect it's ebay:lol:
     
  11. marco_r89

    marco_r89 Member

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    This is an important post. Thanks for bringing it up. I am curious to see the outcome and will be following.
     
  12. chipped

    chipped Member

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  13. SpudBoy

    SpudBoy Member

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    excellent post man.

    let us know if there are any further developments.
     
  14. power

    power Member

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    buying flash memory from ebay is just as risky as buying Windows or other licensed software off ebay.

    both are easy to be faked.

    Asia are renowned for forgery of every kind.

    I'm amazed that someone has gone to this extent in 2014.

    Just buy from a reputable seller.

    You think a bit of flash memory is a revelation, take a tour of an entire fake Apple store!

     
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2014
  15. davros123

    davros123 Member

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    Nice detailed post, but that's a long way to say what we all know.

    You just got the "triple A grade" knock off as opposed to the usual street market crap.
     
  16. munchkin1

    munchkin1 Member

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    Pretty much...no way would I have bought a flash card with an ad like OP describes, being shipped from taiwan...spend extra $10-20 and buy it locally in retail packaging
     
  17. mtma

    mtma Member

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    Ebay won't do anything about it because as long as there are still buyers they still get the cut :lol:
     
  18. lui_gough

    lui_gough Member

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    I'm not entirely sure you managed to get a fake, especially when looking at my card - here's what happened with my genuine card
    http://goughlui.com/2014/03/02/32gb...ndisk-extreme-toshiba-exceria-hd-kingmax-pro/

    The interesting thing is that certain readers (i.e. those with Realtek RTS5301 chipsets) can have problems negotiating UHS-I with cards on insertion, thus limiting their performance to ~25Mb/s (signalling at 25Mhz, 4 bits, DDR = 25Mb/s = 23.8MiB/s). This didn't happen with my sample of the Sandisk Extreme however, but your card physically looks identical (not many use green patterned substrates).

    I have had success with those readers by stuffing the card into a MicroSD to SD adapter and (sometimes) it miraculously gets faster.

    Another thing I discovered was that this card only seems to perform at full speed after a complete write - your H2testw run seems to show a complete write, so now I would suspect your card reader is not properly negotiating UHS-I.

    If you have the chance, get and use a Transcend RDF8. I do all my tests with it, and so far, its compatibility record is unmatched.

    That being said, I think I've been caught out by the seller you mention, but by a Lexar card (http://goughlui.com/2014/10/03/real-or-fake-the-lexar-600x-64gb-microsdxc-card-mystery/)...
     
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2014

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